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Return of the Vicious Circle


Fresh from their success with the Collective Novel Experiment, and with two grants lining the coffers, Whistler’s Writers Group, the Vicious Circle, has confirmed CanLit leading lights Susan Musgrave, Caroline Adderson, and Brian Kaufman as workshop leaders for the annual festival and retreat to be held in Whistler from Sept. 8 to 13.

Registration for the entire five-day writing retreat is open to anyone, with 21 spaces available, in either fiction or non-fiction stream, at a price of $500 (discounted to $375 if participants arrange their own accommodation). Large portions of the program are also available on a drop-in basis. Morning lectures will be presented by Ross Laird on ethical issues related to craft and tapping into your creativity, Mary Schendlinger on the how to get work published, Patti Osborne on self publishing and Rebecca Wood Barrett on pitching stories to publishers.

A detailed program, bios of all the writing mentors and presenters, and information about the pitching session, are available online. To register, or find out more about the Retreat, lecturers and mentors, and readings visit the group’s newly launched website, www.theviciouscircle.ca

In anticipation of the Writers Festival, Pique Newsmagazine is showcasing four short stories written by local writers. These stories will run over the next four weeks. We hope you enjoy these stories and will come out and hear more local and national writers read and talk about their work.



Excerpt from This Cage of Bones

This is an excerpt from my mystery novel set in Whistler, called This Cage of Bones, a story that explores the boundaries of revenge and forgiveness. In this scene a young woman is in the hospital in Vancouver following a car accident in which she lost her leg. Doctors tried to save as much as they could, but Claire is now facing a second, radical surgery, called a hemi-pelvectomy, in which half the hip and pelvis are also amputated. Her general practitioner from Whistler is also in this scene.

By Pam Barnsley

Claire didn’t even turn her head when she heard footsteps approaching her hospital bed. She hated all of them, every goddamn chirping nurse and sombre doctor, every regimental physiotherapist and apologetic lab technician. The only person she wanted to see was a euthanizer, and if the hospital had one on staff, the provincial wait list was probably three years long.

"Hello, Claire."

Claire turned back, and almost smiled. Dr. Abdalrahman held out the local Whistler newspapers.

Claire rolled her eyes. "You think I’m missing the grocery coupons?"

"I thought you might want something to read, see what’s happening at home." He pulled the visitor’s chair closer.

"I’d rather go home and see for myself. Can’t you sign me out of here?" Claire put the newspapers down on the bed. Where her left leg should be the covers were flat and her eyes ricocheted away.

"You will go home, all in good time. After your operation–"

"I told you, I’m not having another goddamn operation. I want a second opinion." She crossed her arms over her chest. Her arms looked skinny now, their matching tattooed bracelets of barbwire a foolish bravado under the harsh overhead light. The tattoo art on her missing leg had cost her six hundred bucks and an ounce of Pemberton outdoor organic. Bet your ass ICBC wouldn’t be covering that.

"You’ve already had more than one second opinion," Abdalrahman said. "And I’m telling you, you need the hemi-pelvectomy."

Claire set her jaw against the images of her hip and innards gouged out like the pulp from a cantaloupe. "Screw that," she said. "I don’t want any more cut off. I want it left alone." She looked across the room to where old Mrs. Engesett lay flat on her back. She was always asleep, she could be in a coma for all Claire knew. A broken hip and she probably wouldn’t leave here alive.

"Leaving it alone won’t save it," Abdalrahman said. "Unfortunately there’s been more tissue necrosis. There wasn’t enough surviving blood flow to keep the tissue alive. The surgeons here are just cleaning it up so you don’t lose any more. So you don’t lose your life."

"What life?"

"Give it time. You’ll find new ways to live your old life."

Claire turned away from the kindness in Dr. Abdalrahman’s eyes. "Spare me the pep talk crap." Then she tensed as a doctor and a nurse entered the room carrying a tray covered in a cloth. But instead of turning towards her, they went to Mrs. Engesett’s bed. The nurse twitched the curtain around the old woman’s bed. Pulling the curtain was a bad sign. Claire tugged her own sheet up higher. She missed the morphine amnesia of the first days following her accident.

"Listen," she said, "what I really need right now are some better drugs. All the stuff they keep locked up in the medicine cabinet down the hall – you could get me a few uppers or some pharmaceutical grade coke."

Dr. Abdalrahman smiled to show he could take a joke. "Will you talk to the therapists after your operation, please? They can help you."

"Ain’t gonna be no afterwards. Those matchbook diploma quacks are not shark-attacking me again."

Claire flinched at the snap of latex gloves from behind the curtain. She tried to ignore the sounds that followed; maybe it wasn’t Mrs. Engesett moaning, maybe they were just prying up a loose floor tile or re-shaping the bedrails with vice grips. "Can you wheel me down to the lounge for a smoke?"

"They’re letting you smoke?"



Claire lifted one corner of her mouth. Almost had him there. Though her throat was still too sore from the sour backwash of this morning’s powdered orange juice and the effort of never, ever crying, it was easier to stay tough with a Players Plain in your face.

"Glad to see you haven’t lost your sense of humour," Abdalrahman said.

"Yeah, I still got a mouth on me, eh? I bet old Mitchelson would like to amputate that tomorrow too."

Across the room a sad moomphing from Mrs. Engesett was followed by apologetic murmurs. Something slooshed. Christ! What were they doing – a liver transplant? Breast reduction surgery?

Claire breathed shallowly; the hospital was full of the taste of other people’s suffering.

"Shall I let the physio and occupational therapist know you’ll talk to them this time? No more throwing food?"

Claire’s eyes flicked to the greasy Rorschach blots where she’d flung the Salisbury steak and the fish fingers. "That one –" Claire pointed to another spot on the wall – "wasn’t me, it was Mrs. Engesett. Chicken pot pie."

A shadow swooped behind the curtain and something clanged into a metal bowl. A groan escaped. Claire winced. "What the hell was that?"

Dr. Abdalrahman patted her arm. "The occupational therapist can help you resume your old job – whatever it was – with modifications."

"Modifications? How many one-legged dancers you know?"

Abdalrahman hesitated, blinked, recovered. "There are related areas – teaching dance, choreography."

"What the hell are you talking about? Exotic dancers don’t have choreographers. Peelers don’t go to bloody finishing school. I was a stripper at the Boot Pub."

Abdalrahman flushed. Claire laughed but it came out like the sound from one of those specialty dogs that can’t bark. "You thought I was Swan bloody Lake in a tutu. Jesus."

Across the room someone turned on a pump. Now they were sucking out all Mrs. Engesett’s internal organs with an undertaker’s trocar.

Claire swallowed. Her own tomorrow waited with a red vengeance. She was as condemned as a lab rat. "I hate them. I hate this."

Abdalrahman stood up. "I’ll come by to see you tomorrow."


"Promise. I’ll be back tomorrow after your surgery."

Claire bit down hard on her lower lip. She wanted to thank him but she couldn’t risk it.

Abdalrahman rested his warm hand on Claire’s shoulder briefly, then he headed out of the room.

At the door he paused and turned back. "Do you want me to bring you anything?"

Claire looked at her doctor. The gulf between what she wanted and what she could have was irreconcilable. She shook her head.

From behind the curtain, Mrs. Engesett croaked, "If you’re taking orders, I’ll have a White Spot burger with Triple-O sauce and a small fries."

Pam Barnsley worked as a snowboard instructor for Whistler-Blackcomb for four years. Her work has appeared in various magazines and newspapers, as well as on CBC television. Recently she has published short stories in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Storyteller Canada. She is currently working on a mystery novel set in Whistler.